Monday, February 25, 2013

Where Does It Go, A Different Kind of Cobra, A Lightning, Not Very Pretty, and A Scooter

So Where Does It Go When I'm Gone?

We've lost several long-time aerospace photographers and image collectors lately, the most recent of whom was Dave Menard. All of this unfortunate but inevitable passing has raised a question regarding the disposition of our collections when we shuffle off this mortal coil (hyperbole, that, but appropriate nonetheless). A number of nationally and internationally-known collectors are affiliated with this project, and the comments and opinions have been flying regarding Dave's collection, our own personal collections, and the ultimate disposition of collections in general, which in turn has resulted in a personal determination. Let's think about this for a minute, because lack of preparation can cause Truly Bad Things to happen to the best of private collections and the subsequent loss of priceless aviation history.

First, let's consider some of the alternatives and their probable ramifications:

You can do nothing at all, and let nature take its course. If you're lucky, your spouse, parents, children, or other blood kin will do the right thing by your collection, but most likely luck won't come into it and they'll jump straight to Plan A, which is to gather up said collection and head straight for the nearest dumpster. A few survivors won't do that, either because they understand the significance of the collection or because they smell money (in which case they run for E-Bay instead of the dumpster), but mostly they will, which is a real good reason to put something in writing regarding disposition of your photography and/or library.

You can leave your stuff to a museum or educational institution. On the face of things that would be The Way to Go, since you'd be donating your assets to someone who can and will both appreciate your collection and treasure it as you would. The fly in that ointment is that a great many institutions just aren't funded to properly deal with extensive collections of photography or books; if you're lucky they'll organize them and make them available to serious researchers, but most such organizations just don't have the time or the staff any more (both of those things equate to MONEY, in case you're not being very bright today). Factor into that the methodology, personal beliefs, and outright whimsy of the staff of such organizations and your contribution becomes a crap-shoot of the highest order, and it gets even worse when we consider that directors and curators in museums and universities change jobs from time to time, just like the rest of us---the guy that just left knew what to do with that priceless photography, but the new guy doesn't, and really doesn't care either because you don't have the letters PhD after your last name. See where this is going?

There's a third alternative, and it's the one we've chosen for our own personal disposition of aviation assets when the Reaper puts in his inevitable appearance. We're going to give everything to an aviation friend, someone who supports research, shares with others, and helps people with their projects. We're going to pass the assets to someone who will use all those photos and books for their own projects, and make copies of the photography available to others for theirs. Hoarders need not apply. We think that's the right thing to do, because we want the stuff to be seen (one of the reasons we started this site in the first place) and disseminated among other aviation historians. That makes a great deal of sense to us.

Why are we telling you this? Why would anybody care? The Short Version of The Story is that even the handful of Uncle Willard's Korean War photographs are of value to the legitimate historian and need to be preserved. They're a priceless record of a time and place that won't come again, and once they're gone they're gone. What you do with your own personal archives is your choice and nobody else's, but we think we're on the right track here.

As always, that's our story and we're sticking with it.

Cleveland Bird

The Big One was over and Johnny had come home to peace and the beginnings of prosperity, but for some of the warriors of that era change came hard. Different people handled things different ways, but for a handful of former military aviators the path was clear: Air racing was the way to go, using modified fighters and attack aircraft surplussed out by the end of hostilities. One of the more colorful of those ex-military air racers is the subject of today's modeling section, thanks to the kindness of reader Pat Donahue.

Few people think of the Bell P-39 Airacobra as a high-performance aircraft, but even in stock form it was fast on the deck and a far more capable fighter than has generally been thought. When stripped of all its military gear and suitably modified, the aircraft became a rocket ship. The subject of this photo essay is "Cobra II", a hot-rodded P-39Q-10-BE flown by Bell test pilot Alvin "Tex" Johnston during the 1946 National Air Races.

Hasegawa's 1/48th scale P-39Q re-boxed as the "Cobra II". That's the pitot tube sticking out of the spinner, relocated from the wingtips. In this stripped-down condition "Cobra II" roared across the finish line of the 1946 National Air Races at 373.9 mph, nothing to sneeze at when we recall that the race was run around pylons and right on the deck. In addition to winning the race, Johnston also broke the world's closed course speed record set by England's Supermarine S-6 some 15 years before. Most folks don't model racing aircraft; Pat's replica of "Cobra II" makes us wonder why more people don't go down that road.

The late-war P-39Q-25-BE was fitted with a four-bladed prop as standard, and that configuration was chosen for the "Cobra II". This nose-on shot illustrates the incredibly small frontal section of the P-39 to good advantage. The P-39 was designed to poop and scoot, but an AAF decision to gut its performance turned it into an also-ran in the hands of everybody but the Soviet Union, who used its low and medium-altitude performance to great advantage in combat against the Luftwaffe.

Careful preparation and execution results in a superior model, as seen here. Look closely at these photos if you will, and note how precisely executed the paintwork and markings are. We think Pat nailed it with this model, but then we've always been a fan of his work, which may make us just the least bit prejudiced!

It would be easy to mistake Pat's model for the real aircraft with if we set the kit in a different background. The minimal weathering is entirely appropriate for the aircraft according to the photos we've seen (although those nose scallops were largely gone by the end of the race!), and the parachute slung onto the starboard wing puts the model over the top. Beauty!

The real "Cobra II" was capable of producing some 2,000 hp at sea level, with an achievable top speed of 400+ mph. Rate of climb was an astounding 6,000 feet per minute; in the 1946 race Johnson had launched and had gear in wells while most of the field was still on the ground. The bird was a lightweight, stripped down to 5,578 pounds dry---with the addition of a 240 US gallon fuel load gross weight was only 7,886 pounds. The airplane looked pretty ratty at the end of the race; a large percentage of the nose scalloping had worn off during the course of the competition, but the yellow and black "Cobra II" was arguably among the prettiest aircraft to ever compete for the Thompson Trophy.

Thanks to Pat Donahue for these remarkable photographs and an outstanding model!

Just in Case You Build One for Yourself

Our friends at Eduard recently issued another of their 1/48th scale Special Editions, this time covering the Lockheed P-38 in the pacific and called, appropriately enough, Pacific Lightnings (EU1175). The basic kit is Academy's P-38J/L, suitably accompanied with a selection of photo-etch and Eduard's own "Brassin'" resin accessories. The star of the show, however, is the decal sheet, which contains exceptionally well-done markings for 5 different aircraft. Thanks to Bobby Rocker we just happened to have a photograph of one of those airplanes and thought today would be a good time to share it with you.

"Rough and Dirty Jr" in all her glory, sitting on the ramp at Tacloban in 1945. The kit costs 75 bucks if you pay full retail for it, which isn't as bad as it first seems when you consider all that comes with it. If it were our choice, and it may well be, we'd substitute a Hasegawa P-38 for the Academy offering included in the kit, but you can get an acceptable model from either. Modelers note the slightly under inflated nose tire, a rarity on any military flight line. Those markings are rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, but will make for a really neat model airplane should you be inclined towards such things.   Rocker Collection

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

The Fairchild AT-21 was designed and built as a dedicated bomber trainer for the Army Air Forces during the Second World War. Some airplanes just come across as doomed from the start and, even though some 106 examples of the type were manufactured, it was a flop as a bomber trainer and, quite frankly, a poor airplane to boot. Time and good sense eventually passed it by, and second-hand bombers eventually fulfilled the roll originally conceived for the AT-21. It was for the best...

This image of the XAT-13, the prototype for the AT-21 series and autographed by test pilot Vance Breese, shows just how ungainly the aircraft was. The XAT-13 (41-19500) was powered by a pair of 450hp powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney R-1340-AN-1 radial engines, while the production aircraft (the AT-21) featured a pair of 550 hp Ranger V770-11 or -15 power plants. At the end of the day it didn't matter which engine the airframe was powered by; the aircraft suffered from poor stability and excessive vibration and was a pig in the air. The type was withdrawn from service in 1944, but not before it was decided to attempt to convert the aircraft into a flying bomb. Two such aircraft, designated XBQ-3, were modified to carry 4,000 pounds of explosives but that project was also shelved. A handful of AT-21s survived the war to enter civilian service, of which one is known to still exist. If it looks right it'll generally fly right. 'Nuff said.  Greater St Louis Air and Space Museum via Mark Nankivil

How About a Knife Fight, Ya'll?

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk series won its spurs as an attack bomber par excellance, after which it spent a fair amount of time flying as an adversary aircraft in the Navy's various ACM programs (its overall performance was similar to that of the MiG-17). Back in those faraway days when we actually went to airshows we always tried to get there the day before, so we could catch everybody arriving. That's where we found and photographed this particular "Tinker Toy".

152004, an A-4E from VA-126, taxis in after arrival at Bergstrom on 14 October 1989. The cranked refueling probe is of interest, as is the pylon configuration---although built as a 5-station aircraft, when used for the adversary roll the A-4E was inevitably configured with only 3 stations. Sharp-eyed readers will note that, while most of the landing gear doors are Insignia White trimmed in Insignia Red per specification, the secondary nose gear door is painted entirely in red. This aircraft has been used extensively and its paintwork is heavily patched, but it was entirely capable of fullfilling its mission the day we photographed it. The non-military zoom bag and ACM helmet the pilot's wearing are noteworthy.  P Friddell

Under The Radar

Gradual Failure, The Air War Over North Vietnam 1965-1966, Jacob Van Staaveren, Air Force History and Museums Program, 388pp, illustrated. The years 1965 and 1966 were crucial ones for the United States Air Force during the Vietnam war. This volume is a highly detailed account of those two critical years and covers both political and operational aspects of the conflict. Like so many of the works we discuss here this volume is a book; the selection of photographs is more than adequate and well-reproduced, but the heart of this work is its text. Many official histories are somewhat dry and oft times boring to read, but this book is both highly readable and easy to absorb. Combat ops are described in some detail, and both Air Force and Navy contributions are discussed at length. Not a book for everyone, this volume is one that the serious scholar of the Vietnam War cannot afford to be without.

The Relief Tube

Last issue we ran some photos of P-39Qs from the 82nd TRS and commented that we couldn't quite make out the nose art on one of them. Several of our readers responded with the name we couldn't figure out, which we're going to share with you today.

Here's the picture that started it all. 42-19883 obviously has something written on the nose, but we weren't ready to guess what it was. Some of our readers were a whole lot more astute than we were, which resulted in the following comments. As before, the photo is from Bobby Rocker's collection.

First, from long-time friend Jean Barbaud:  The name of the P-39Q 42-19883 picture seems to be : "Julia 2nd".

Then, just a few short days later we received not only confirmation of the name but a shot of the right side of the aircraft from Johnny Watson:

Hello Phillip. I was excited to see your fourth 82nd TRS photo of P-39 42-19883 in the latest post of your excellent blog on which you were unable to read the nose art. I have a photo of the starboard side of the nose of that P-39 which shows the nose art to read "Julia 2nd", along with what appears to be a pin-up girl on the door. My photo was taken by an unknown member of the 27th Air Depot, New Guinea, probably late 1943. I have attached my photo to the email. It is from my personal collection, and you may post it should it be of interest. Looking forward to your next post!

Jonathan Watson

And finally, from Alan Alexander: 

I hope this note finds you in good health and getting settled in from your recent change in residence. I'm sure that, by now, you've already been contacted several times about the name on 82nd TRS P-39Q 42-19883; but just in case you haven't, a peek over the top of my glasses seems to indicate that the name on her nose is "Julia 2nd." While I've got you on the line, thank-you for the great blog and to you and the others whose photographs have been posted on Replica in Scale, for sharing your treasures with the rest of us. I'm glad to see that RIS carries on the print tradition of crediting photo sources, which seems increasingly to be getting lost on the internet. Keep up the good work!

Alan Alexander

Thanks to all of you for the identification of "Julia 2nd", and for your kind comments!

We ran some photos of a few pranged aircraft a while back, leading Gerald Asher to provide this identification to one of them:

Phil - I may be relieving myself into the proverbial headwind, but after looking at Bob Rocker's Aleutian Lightning remnants, I went into "junkyard dog" research mode on I think a safe bet for an ID on the bird in question may be P-38G serial 42-13400 of the 54th FS, making a crash-belly landing near Temneck Bay on New Year's Day 1945. I don't know if the driver actually "walked" away, but it appears Robert L. Nesmith survived the adventure.  Gerald  Rocker Collection

One of the neat things about this site, as we're certain you've already noticed, are the people we get to meet. Geoffrey Hays had recently published a history on the B-50 and came across our modest effort in that direction a few issues back, where we'd bemoaned the fact that there was an airplane there, hiding in the background of a photo, that featured nose art we just couldn't read. We asked for help and Geoff came to the rescue for us:

In your RB-50 piece, you asked about Wilson's Follies, the RB-50F aircraft in the background of the image of Mac's Effort. You were hoping for a close-up of the nose art. Here 'tis. (George Horn Collection, NMUSAF)  Cheers, geoff

Many thanks for your help with that one, Geoff!

Finally, here's a comment on a comment, as it were. A long, long time ago (a year or two, anyway) we ran a color shot of a Supermarine Seafire from Bobby Rocker's collection with an annotation that it was a Seafire Mk XV. While such an aircraft did exist, it's highly doubtful/pretty danged impossible that the type ever landed in the Philippines during the course of the Second World War; we messed up the caption! A couple of weeks ago one of the guys over at Hyperscale ran the photo (with provenance, for which many thanks for doing the Right Thing!), unfortunately citing our misidentification of the type and calling the airplane a Mk XV. He immediately received several responses to his post properly identifying the bird in question as a Seafire Mk III. We very much appreciate the mention in that particular publication as well as the proper identification of the airplane in that photo, and would like to encourage folks with corrections or comments to get in touch with us directly when they discover those inevitable errors; we pride ourselves on fixing such things but have a tough time doing that when we aren't aware of the mistake!

We've got another couple of corrections we could run today but we're saving them for next time. Until then, be good to your neighbor. We'll meet again real soon.

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